The other side of the Pendulum – surviving COVID, miscarriage, and the secret to a full life!

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If you know anything about my story, then you may recall that I refer to my decision point as The Pendulum Promise. In my hour of most desperate need, when all hope of joy seemed lost, I trusted Jesus to give me strength for the journey. And it’s been a journey!

For the first time in forever, yes my kids watch a lot of Frozen, I feel like the Pendulum is finally swinging across the middle into that far away place called Joy. Before you stop reading, though, and brush this off as just another boastful story of God’s goodness, I want you to know that I’m not even happy about it. Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not some bratty ungrateful person. What I mean to say is, for the first time in, well, ever, I suddenly get what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” If you’d like to know that secret, keep reading with me, friend.

How do we witness Heaven in our lives in a world that’s gone mad?

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This past year has been a whirlwind for many folks, and my family has not been immune. In fact, we were graced with being one of the first folks to contract COVID before they even knew it was here in the United States. I was pregnant with my third child at the time. My mom and our older two kids were with us on a road trip to Toledo, Ohio for the Annual Encounter Conference held during the worst time of the year. Who wants to go up North in January when you live in South Florida?

Read about our Relic Tour in Relic Tour Memoirs: 12 days, the holiest places in the US Northeast and Midwest, an 8 yo, a 7 yo, a pregnant lady and her saintly mother “Nanny”, 3,700 miles of Grace

We’d decided to make the 3500 mile round-trip in a car to avoid complications from flying and pregnancy. Little did we know we were only exchanging one set of complications for another. My homeschooling-Mother mode convinced everyone to stop along the way at the several holy sites in our country along the way. Our Relic Tours cruised up the coast from St. Augustine to Savannah, through Mary’s land and Baltimore, DC and a Pittsburgh, over to Steubenville and Toledo, before turning back through Mary Stein, Ohio and down to Louisville to see the famous life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. While it’s possible my accidental drinking of the holy water we’d welled from St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Savannah may have been the culprit, we used an empty water bottle and dipped it in the font (I know, amateurs!), it’s much more likely we picked up the international bug during our stay in DC (maybe it was the moon stone at the Air & Space Museum, I mean, like, how many people have touched that!). My cough had been getting persistent since we arrived in Toledo for the conference, just three days after our DC visit, but a whole lot of prayers, rosaries, and vitamin c had seemed to stave off the usual congestion that normally followed. By the time I was coughing every two minutes on our trip home, five days later, I was secretly grateful the Ark Encounter had been closed unexpectedly and we were able to continue straight home. Growing concern for the baby and a calm sense of knowing had us pull over just south of Atlanta and I wound up in the ER. Thankfully I was admitted to the Pregnancy Ward because of how far along I was, almost six months. The ER had been crowded like I’d never seen one before. “An uptick in the flu this season” they said. I was asked to wear a mask.

It turned out my knowing was good to follow. They admitted me with a fever of 103 degrees farenheit and put me on fluids. I spent the next three hours grateful for praying family. Having just spent the week at Encounter’s Kids Track, my children were on fire with faith. They laid hands on me in the car and continued to pray rosaries with my mom in the hotel room while they waited for news. And at first, the news was not too good.

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My view from the hospital bed where I battled COVID and won.

If I hadn’t had a hunch about that secret Paul was preaching, I don’t think I would’ve made it through those next few hours. So many thoughts about the baby’s life, my own, and the future fate of my children and husband were assailing my mind, but I had the secret and I used it like a weapon. Jesus, I trust in you. It’s the only words I could mumble repeatedly as I lay there clinging to the side of the bed rail. My body ached from complications with pelvic displacement from the pregnancy and I had to get up to pee every ten minutes or wet myself. When the nurse came in to tell me that my O2 levels were dropping, she didn’t hesitate to unleash even more anxiety with all the ‘what-if’ scenarios surrounding the baby. Rather than succumb to the lies, and the anxiety, I clutched the rosary my mom had brought back from Medjugorje and asked my Guardian Angel to help me pray it in my exhaustion. I also reached out via text to some praying mommas I know and asked my husband to have our Cursillo brothers and sisters pray. It was midnight. I had an incredible amount of peace. Remember, COVID wasn’t even a blip on the radar much less a news buzz word. I only knew that if God was permitting this trial then He had a plan to see me through it. So I trusted and believed.

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At 3 am I awoke feeling what I can only describe as a holy deluge of deliverance. It was as if all the water in my body had suddenly gushed forth from places I didn’t even know could sweat. I was drenched from head to toe and was surprised at the little effort it took for me to get out of bed without pelvic pain and make it to the bathroom, where even a horse wouldn’t impress you compared to the amount of water that continued to rush out of me (apologies if that was TMI for you). I felt a strange feeling of refreshment and relief. My mom and children believe it was my drinking the holy water that actually saved me (though I don’t recommend drinking it as part of a daily regimen, I do think they might be right). When the nurse came in she was surprised to see my O2 levels had come up drastically and my fever had broke to 98 degrees. She asked if I wanted a popsicle. I’ve never tasted a popsicle so refreshing since. The parchness in my mouth from all the dry coughing was even gone and the coughing itself subsided enough for me to return to sleep without interruption until morning.

I remember just before the nurse left, I heard wailing from a woman next store, and so I had asked her if she and the baby were ok. I’d never heard a woman scream in so much pain. My heart had immediately lifted her up in gratitude for my own deliverance and I asked the Lord to deliver her too. The nurse smiled, “Oh you heard that too?” I nodded in hope. “She and the baby are fine. It was her first time and she was having difficulty but then suddenly she did everything that needed to be done.”

I smiled as the nurse left. Isn’t that just like the secret weapon I had just used? When our moment of trial comes, we can use it and it will bring new life to our bones!

What I had been told would be a minimum 72 hour hospital stay for a woman in my condition turned out to be less than 24 hours. We were on our trip home the next day and life continued to hum along, even though it took the kids three more weeks to get completely out of their own roe with the dreaded virus. At the time, we had just chalked it up to being up north in winter. Reports of “flu” had trickled down from other conference participants by then too and the idea that it might be anything else wouldn’t enter our minds and news until three months later. When I realized the magnitude of what God had brought me through in that moment, I was in awe. I began to recall the many stories of Jesus’ miracles and healings for people who had faith. I had no idea that faith could be as simple as saying, Jesus, I trust in you. Or that the secret weapon Paul spoke of had been so near to me the whole time.

Backyard Mass with our Catholic Homeschool Community.

Our year in the Pandemic continued to see God’s riches come. His blessings flowed and we never were in lack, despite the fact we are a single income home that homeschools and we had just given birth to our third child in a pandemic. I look back on all those decisions we made when the Pendulum was still swinging backward and now all I see is the secret weapon at work.

Stay at home mom? Are you kidding me? I’d rather pull my hair out. Give up my two college degrees and career earnings to be our kids taxicab driver? No way! Why don’t you do it? I can make more in a year than you! Best decision. Ever!

Homeschool? You must be insane! I come from a publicly educated home. What would people say? I wouldn’t even know where to start! Besides, there’s no way I could handle being around kids all day. Yes! You can, mamma! Not. One. Regret.

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Fast forward to Pandemic 2020 and suddenly making those hard decisions made us genius! I can’t tell you how many folks told me and my husband how wise we were to have made those choices early on. The same people who called us crazy were now asking us how we did it, so they could give their own kids how-to-advice. I’m not gloating here. Far from it. What many parents wound up doing in 2020-2021 was far from homeschooling. At best, I’d call it crisis schooling, which is far worse. If that is you, my hat is off to you! Truly. You were forced to do something you had to do without any of the luxury of being called to do it. Whether you realize it or not, many of you too, we’re employing the use of Paul’s secret weapon, just as I did too when I finally allowed the Lord’s wisdom to shift my heart to a stay-at-home-homeschooling mindset. And I have to say, he pulled it off perfectly, but isn’t that just what he promises us he will do?

Our Palm Beach Campus is just one of 30 Satellite Schools launched during the pandemic. Visit us at Encounter Palm Beach.

Did I mention we started a ministry in a pandemic too? Big shout out to all you entrepreneurs out there who had to start something new the year the world shut down. Just when I think enough is enough, I find that this secret weapon doesn’t actually work unless you continue to use it. By now, I was getting used to saying, Jesus, I trust in you, pretty much like inhaling and exhaling. It became a good mantra for slowing down my heart rate too!

We actually just finished launching our first event for Encounter Ministries Palm Beach Campus this past July. In the time between the pandemic starting, launching the ministry, and birthing a child in my 40s (talk about needing a secret weapon!) I somehow found little time to get back to exercising. I joked at a speaking engagement that the Lord was keeping the house open for another one because I’d told him not to make me go through the effort of reconstructing it if he just had plans for a new tenant. Little did I know, the Lord is a keeper of words. I not only did not gain any weight during the pandemic but I never lost it either, not one single pound! Be careful what you ask for.

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Our Incredible children and baby Jack Jack. They’re imaginations make homeschooling a real adventure every day.

Our first two children are 15 months apart. It’s a lot like having twins. It was exhausting. When Jack came nearly ten years later, we were all excited to have a new little soul to get to know. I’d learned enough about the secret then to realize our greatest shot at adventure while we are here is having a child. There is no other endeavor that gives you the greatest possibilities for a future than raising a family. Every soul you’re entrusted with is like a gift you unwrap forever. Every day a new surprise. I never really liked gifts before I knew the secret. I always thought gift giving was awkward. Most people don’t do it right. They are more focused on what the gift says about them than on what the gift says about how well they know the person their giving the gift to. God’s a really good gift giver. I realized that every child he chose to gift me was His way of saying, “See this little bundle, he’s going to show you how great a mother you really are!” “See this little girl, she’s going to show you how beautiful and feminine you really are.” “Oh and this little rabble rouser I’m sending you now, when you think you’re too old, he’s my gift to show you I’m not done with you yet. There is still more in you I want you to see.” The Psalmist had it right along, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” This warrior apparently is just revving up. Just when our ministry launched, God had another use for that secret weapon. Just one week after our Summer Intensive, we found out we were pregnant with our fifth child. We had a miscarriage just before my oldest son was born. Turns out God did have a tenant ready to gift us, even in this time of trial. And I couldn’t wait to meet a little of myself in them.

But this story isn’t about boasting. It’s about letting you in on the secret. The secret that’s kept me moving forward with that Pendulum. The secret that keeps me believing and trusting even when it feels like the world is falling apart, or when convention wants to tell you you’re too old to do something, like have more children, or when people you love want to give you “loving” advice to stop chasing after your dreams, or being open to more life. What is that secret, friend? It’s a person and his name is Jesus, I trust in you.

O Blood and Water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus have mercy on us, Jesus, we trust in you. Read about devotion to Divine Mercy here.

I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life on a roller coaster of emotion. I watched as my dreams for wealth and material things were taken from me because of youthful pride and poor decision making. I’ve suffered through the hardships of divorce, debt and foreclosure, near bankruptcy and clinical anxiety and depression. I watched as life-long friends distanced themselves from the train wreck of my life. I’ve experienced loss and heartache, miscarriage, and the humiliation of poverty. And through it all, I trusted in the promises of God to bring me into a fullness of joy I’ve never known. And now that such joy is here, dear friend, I’m going to have to trust him all the more.

Why can’t I just be happy you ask? Because, Happiness is impossible to achieve without virtue. Many men pursue it as though it were a thing to be ransomed but the pursuit of happiness ingrained in our own country’s founding is a pursuit that requires something you and I could not ransom. Happiness had to be ransomed for us on a cross for it to be even held within our grasp. Which is why men never truly attain it without first going to the cross.

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Paul says it like this to the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Any riches we acquire in this life come through the poverty of the cross. We have to learn how to surrender to the agony of the cross, those times life’s burdens feel too heavy to bear. We have to learn how to surrender to the pain of the cross, those times people mock us and scourge us with their words, their actions, their defiance. And we have to learn how to surrender to the power of the cross, because we serve a God who is not dead but who is living, and seated in Heavenly places. Paul’s secret weapon and ours is Christ himself. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

These pursuits of our lives, therefore, at times may be lacking and at others overflowing, but we are not learning how to hold on to happiness as though we could hold on to these moments. We are learning to pursue Him who contains the fullness of our joy in all things. He is our Happiness.

Baptizing the land for our new home with Holy Water. With faith, anything is possible for those who believe.

Just before we found out we were pregnant again, we put money down on a new house. We’ve run the gauntlet on this one since the beginning. First, losing one to the market fiasco in 2011 (watch the film the Big Short), then living with my mom again, renting a one bedroom with two babies under two (our daughter slept in a pack-n-play in the kitchen), to purchasing our mobile home we call the “God House” because of the way it came to us. There’s no way we should’ve been able to buy it for what we bought it for and we got a gift from family too! In fact, all the things we have in our lives are from the generous hearts of others. We haven’t had to purchase a car in the last ten years because all of them have come through someone knowing we were in need. We call them “God-cars”, obviously. It was the strangest thing, how the moment we started saying yes to God’s plans to homeschool, and for me to stay at home, everything we’ve ever needed has always been provided through the movement of generous hearts. The idea of someday owning our own home with a solid foundation had long left my train of thought. I assumed we’d grow old and die in this happy little house on wheels. But once again, God wanted to test that weapon. Taking on a mortgage during a pandemic is crazy, qualifying us for one is a miracle, but through the help of a generous family member we’ve been able to secure a future for our growing family. The Lord knew we’d need it before we did! I just didn’t realize what he was growing was far more precious than a baby.

As they say in the south, “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” we’ll be settled-in to our new tent just before the poo-hits-the-fan. But even joy doesn’t come without it’s trials.

Paul’s words are a reminder to me that even though it may seem our future is bright, we can’t hold on to these things too tightly. I’ve gotten so used to living at the poverty line that rising above it in this season is going to be a challenge. Don’t misunderstand me, we didn’t win the lotto. But riches come with their trials too. Just after we got the news our offer had been accepted, we received our first harassment from the devil. It came by way of our ministry, lashing out from a clearly deep-seeded wound against the Church, the man implied the non-profit ministry was a front for our wealth and we should disclose our house address to prove it. I thought to myself, if he only knew! But it wasn’t about him. It was about the weakness the devil saw in my use of the secret weapon. I didn’t feel deserving of the house. I was struggling with that very thought, what will people think of the ministry work if they find out we bought a new house? It wasn’t about fear of man, so much as it was, I didn’t want to detract from God’s glory. Somehow poverty become a crutch. If Christ can strengthen you in anything, be assured that placing your trust in devils will surely weaken you in anything. I learned a valuable lesson that day, and Paul’s words are affirmation of it, whatever Christ leads us to, he will bring us through! Poverty is not a sign of righteousness, neither are riches, but being a man or woman of faith who can follow Jesus anywhere, and through anything, certainly is!

Now that you’re done reading this, I can tell you something I didn’t know at the time I first wrote it. Shortly after we found out I was pregnant, the kids brought home a terrible bug from summer camp. It took us all nearly four weeks to get over it. I’ve had one or two really horrible colds in my life, while I wouldn’t put this at the top, I would put it in the top 3. Soar throat, fever, aches, chills, congestion, loss of smell, and a cough. I immediately employed the secret weapon again. But something began to gnaw at me around week 7 of the pregnancy. If this was another bout with COVID, would the baby survive? Once again, I had to battle those same doubts I had battled just a year ago before. Each time they came, I prayed, Jesus, I trust in you.

Sacramentals for the journey home. In our faith, preparing the body for its final resting place is a corporal work of mercy.

When the spotting began, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the time came to call the doctor, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the exam made him exclaim something was suspicious, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When we started the progesterone, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When I wondered if it was COVID that killed my baby, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When we waited for the COVID test results, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When my husband, and my kids, and my mother, and my Cursillio family told me it was all going to be fine and to keep hope, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. But I knew what needed to happen. And so, when I went to Adoration and I kneeled before the Throne and I submitted my will to His and I heard my Lord say, Give the child to me, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the blood started flowing and all the clots started coming, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the sac appeared, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When we inquired about burial on sacred ground, against all the confusion and jeering glances at our foolishness, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the doctor called it a lump of tissue instead of respecting life, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When the laughing and sneering threatened to overwhelm me as they took away the tiny remains, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When people close to us scoffed at spending money on a headstone, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When my son asked if we could put a picture of our family in the casket so that on the Last Day the baby will know who to look for, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you. When they put him in the tomb, and rolled the stone shut, I employed the same prayer, Jesus, I trust in you.

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You see my friend, the promises of God are not always what they seem. They are even greater than we can understand. The Lord did have a gift for us, and it was one that helped me see more of myself. Even though I only carried his tiny gift in my womb for 9 weeks, that short beautiful life taught me I was braver than I knew, and capable of more faith and trust in Jesus than I could ever imagine. This tiny gift from God showed me how a family could come together even in the most sorrowful of times, and that there is a whole community of people who can keep your faith alive on their hope. That compassion for another’s trials can be more healing than a long life. And, valuing life from conception to natural death is an invitation to a great gift I wish more would be open to receive, even if it’s only for a brief moment.

Justin Martyr Engel 7/3/21-8/24/21

When I look back over the past 9 weeks, I don’t see the pain as much as I see Jesus. Turns out, when you learn to employ that secret weapon, it infuses you with strength to face even your worst nightmares.

When we first started to discuss names for our little one, Justin Martyr, immediately popped into my thoughts. At first, I found the name strange until I recalled how Saint Justin was a man of very strong faith. A first century Christian apologist and philosopher, a prolific writer, he wrote many homilies and books, of which a few books and two apologies have survived today, where he passionately defends the morality of the Christian life, and provides various ethical and philosophical arguments to convince the Roman emperor, Antoninus, to abandon the persecution of the Church. He and his followers were eventually martyred during the reign of Marcus Aurelius where he earned his surname Martyr. With all that is happening in our world today, and the state of the Church, it seemed appropriate that our little soul would be born “just-in time” to be another herald against the persecutions of these days. The part I failed to see in the Spirit’s prompting was the part that required him to be a martyr. I am not saying the Lord caused our little one to die just to be a martyr, rather, I am saying that life is fragile and our world is a violent wilderness of which all of us are born into exile. As G.K. Chesterton is known for saying, ‘The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap….”

Like so many mothers and fathers, I know our experience with first trimester miscarriage in this COVID environment will not be the last. Did COVID kill my baby? Is vaccine shedding real? Could I have done something early on to stop the clotting? To keep our little one from suffocating and dying from heart failure? Was it placental abruption caused by the infection early on or was it as everyone says, a chromosome abnormality that caused a “spontaneous abortion”? Even the medical terms wreak of the demon. Over one million “spontaneous abortions” occur in this country alone each year during the first trimester without anyone blinking an eye (or picking up a research grant). Only humane doctors with sensitivity training have the good sense to classify it as a miscarriage but even they won’t give you answers. It’s far easier to say the body rejects tissue that is damaged rather than to say the baby is born into a hostile environment of disease and demonic poisons that threaten its very life from the moment of conception unto natural death. Life is indeed a miracle; To survive birth a miracle of miracles. For those who have experienced a loss of life during pregnancy, at any stage, these are just a few of the questions that shout at us from within. My heart aches for all the grieving mommas who’ve shared their stories on blog posts and documented their “adverse reactions” with authorities, hoping to get answers, hoping to stir up hearts that care. While the world is hyper-focused on protecting its most vulnerable, it has seemed to have altogether forgotten its holy innocents. Yes, Justin Martyr, seems perfectly fitting.

Holy innocents. Martyrs and witnesses to the faith. Heaven is filled with little ones, “Let the little children come.”

Interestingly, the word “martyr” does not mean what many think it means; it means “witness”. Martyrs are those who stay openly committed to their faith in the face of punishment and even death. A martyr cannot deny that God exists, or that Jesus is God, or that Heaven is the Kingdom of God, and therefore they do not stop witnessing to these realities in the face of persecution and suffering. We may one day be faced with such a choice.

Astonishingly, and right on time, just one day after our little martyr left us to be with Jesus, Our Lady gave this message to the visionaries in Medjugorje for all her Apostles of Love to be encouraged:

“Dear children! With joy I am calling all of you, little children, who have responded to my call: be joy and peace. Witness with your lives Heaven, which I am bringing to you. It is time, little children, that you be a reflection of my love for all those who do not love and whose hearts hatred has conquered. Do not forget: I am with you and intercede for all of you before my Son Jesus, that He may give you His peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.” (Our Lady Queen of Peace, Medjugorje, August 25, 2021)

You now may be wondering, How do we witness Heaven in our lives in a world that’s gone mad? I believe we must practice our witness of Heaven through our joy, in receiving new life and stewarding it with great love from conception to natural death and becoming people known by their compassion, as everyone was who journeyed with us in our grief; through confidence in God, that no matter the outcome He is in control and we can overcome all things in His grace; through trust in God’s plan, that even death can be a sweet sorrow and a true “witness” to faith, and through loyalty to Our Lady, whom God has willed to give to us a piece of Heaven on earth, a reminder that with a humble heart we too can be martyrs, great witnesses to the cross of Jesus.

I’ve seen so many people avoiding pain in these days. It would have been easier to agree with them that at just 9 weeks old, our baby was just a lump of cells. We could have let him pass without telling anyone, like so many do, avoiding grief by justifying it away. But, who can witness what is untold? Trusting Jesus does not mean you are immune to pain or temptation to avoid it. Exactly the opposite, my friend. Jesus tells us the best witness of faith is the man who lays down his life for his friends. So I hope somehow in sharing our story, our friends will witness how Heaven once again came down, bringing life to an empty womb, hope in the midst of chaos, and a sweet joy in our exile that even great sorrow cannot hold.

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Blessing of the cross. May we all be witnesses of it. We are so grateful for the friendship of holy priests to infer such blessings of grace upon our lives.

Our family is still growing. Though we may not have needed a physical house here on earth to make room for it, our house in Heaven has grown and so has the house of our souls. And, who knows what will happen with our new home too. What I continue to learn is that God alone sees clearly our future. It’s better not to get too attached to things going a certain way and better to get attached to the One who makes all things certain. The only way to do this is to remain completely open to life in all its ways, gifts, and trials.

In some way, this year and the ones that follow will be a trial for all of us. Whether you’re feeling blessed or feeling stressed, whether you’re experiencing the greatest loss or the greatest joy, I want to encourage you to put your faith and trust in Jesus, and use that secret weapon! You see it doesn’t really matter which way the Pendulum is swinging, when you put your trust in Jesus, everything you experience in this life can be a gift of joy that will find you content in all things because every experience is an opportunity to grow in virtues: faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, temperance, and courage (or fortitude), which allow you to not only pursue happiness but actually attain it. Always remember, Joy and sorrow are both great blessings when you allow them to reveal something about yourself that God has always known: You can trust him. You really can.

He will see you through to a fuller life of genuine happiness!

Saint Justin Martyr and all the martyrs in Heaven, pray for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Let us know your thoughts? Were we right on or do we need more coffee?